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Clothes make the inmate

Pasco jail trusties say their new uniforms make them look like the Hamburglar.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001


Pasco jail trusties say their new uniforms make them look like the Hamburglar.

HUDSON -- Shawn McCarthy and his co-workers don't like wearing bold, black-and-white striped uniforms when they paint, wire and lay carpet.

"It makes us look like convicts," McCarthy said.

McCarthy and his co-workers are convicts.

They're Pasco County jail inmates known as "trusties" who have avoided trouble behind bars and are working under supervision in hopes of getting earlier release dates.

Until Monday, trusties such as McCarthy wore orange cotton pants and an orange cotton-polyester blend T-shirt.

Now, McCarthy and all other inmates authorized to work outside the jail will wear the striped uniforms, which feel more like canvas than lightweight, breathable cotton.

"They're hot, heavy and terrible to wear," said McCarthy, who is serving 100 days for violation of house arrest. "They make us look like clowns."

No other Tampa Bay area county requires inmates to wear black-and-white striped uniforms. And inmates working with McCarthy on wiring a sheriff's substation in Hudson on Wednesday said they would prefer another line of clothing.

One man said the uniform made him look like the Hamburglar, the sandwich-stealing character from the McDonald's commercials.

Another called the uniforms "degrading." A third complained that he has to wear T-shirts under the already heavy fabric because of chafing that occurs under his armpits.

"They're a little too restrictive for climbing ladders," said David Blount, who is serving 270 days for felony criminal mischief and possession of marijuana.

Sheriff's authorities say the new uniforms allow people to recognize inmates immediately.

"We want to make sure that there is absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that they are inmates and that they are allowed to be out doing work," said sheriff's Col. Al Nienhuis.

The new uniforms also save the Sheriff's Office money: A striped uniform, size small, costs $11.60. The orange uniforms cost $15 each.

Nienhuis said the out-of-jail work assignments are voluntary, so if inmates don't want to wear the broad-striped uniforms, they don't have to. Other Pasco inmates will continue to wear orange, blue, red and white uniforms, depending on their classification and the jail wing they are living in.

Kara Gotsch of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., said that just because the decision to wear the uniforms is up to the inmates, that doesn't make them any less humiliating.

"There really is no other option for the inmate," said Gotsch, who is a public policy coordinator. "Either the inmate endures the humiliation of wearing these uniforms or stays in his cell and does nothing all day."

Some other sheriffs around the country have decided to put their inmates in stripes -- most notably, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona. He has also required inmates to dye their underwear pink, and he makes convicts work on chain gangs.

Nienhuis said the Pasco Sheriff's Office has no plans to invest in balls and chains for the inmates.

In just a few days, the Pasco inmates who are working on the Hudson substation at U.S. 19 and Bolton Avenue have gotten looks and comments about their new uniforms.

Lorna Burns was making a food delivery to the Chevron station next door to the substation when she saw the stripes. She's all for the concept.

"We need to have something so we can all identify them for what they are," Burns said.

But a Chevron customer, Kathy McMenemy of Hudson, said the uniforms are ridiculous.

"It looks like the 1950s," she said. "That's an insult."

When jail authorities handed Bob Bowers the baggy uniform, he thought it was a joke.

But Bowers, whose is serving a 240-day sentence for driving under the influence with property damage, thinks the uniforms will be a deterrent.

"If this is what you've got to wear in Pasco County," he said, "it will make you think twice about doing a crime here."

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